Better Grades for 2009?

School starts again today after the winter break. I hope everyone found some time to relax. I did! I will find out tomorrow how much math I forgot when my class meets again.

One big change we're likely to see in the new year in Fairfax schools is a new grading policy. Superintendent Jack D. Dale recommended Friday that the school system add extra points to the grade-point average for students who take Honors or AP/IB classes.

This would not effect my own GPA, as my class is just regular old Algebra II! But it would effect the thousands of students who are enrolled in college-level and honors classes.

The change is a response to a huge parent-led movement to level the playing field for Fairfax students who are competing for colleges and scholarships with kids who are racking up astronomical GPAs elsewhere thanks to the extra weights. (It's not uncommon in some districts to earn a 5.4 GPA on a 4.0 scale).

Fairfax leaders have argued that their grading policy, which is light on extra GPA credit and which requires a 94 to get an A and a 64 to pass, encourages students to work harder. They have maintained that Fairfax students do okay, because colleges look at students individually and take different grading scales into account. But a school system report found that those steroid-infused GPAs actually do help some kids get merit scholarships or placement in college honors programs.

What is less clear is whether the actual grading scale helps or hurts students. Dale did not recommend adopting the more commonly used 10-point scale, citing a desire for setting high standards and a lack of hard evidence that students would benefit from it.

The report did cite one relevant study, which found that a tougher grading scale is linked to higher performance on standardized tests. But the same study found that drop out rates for Hispanic students and black students were also higher.

Few parents or students that I have talked to disagree with the notion that students who are working hard in harder classes, should get rewarded for that. But there are not many voices arguing for children who are working hard for C's, and going home with D's.

Discussions on the school board will likely include how a new grading scale will effect kids throughout the academic spectrum, not just the highest performers.

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  January 5, 2009; 9:54 AM ET
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I attended school in Montgomery County and taught in Fairfax for a decade before working in Montgomery County. Hands down, Fairfax is a much better school system, partially because the standards are so high. This had nothing to do with economics or ethnicity. Plain and simple, my middle school kids in Fairfax could write so much better than my high school students in Montgomery County. Both groups of students were minorities and had economic disadvantages, but the expectations in Fairfax were so much higher both for academics and behavior. When I came back to MoCo to teach, I had high hopes that things had changed since I had graduated in the 80's, but nothing had really changed at all except students are now given 50% for nothing, lots of chances to retake tests, and can turn things in late. My advice is to keep the standards high in Fairfax. If a weak student needs 70 to pass in VA and a weak student needs 60 to pass in MD, guess which one will work harder? The SOL tests for middle school kids in Fairfax were so much harder than the 10th grade HSA. It's a joke!

Posted by: lk11 | January 6, 2009 7:10 AM | Report abuse

This sort of imbalance can never be fixed. Some teachers will always be easier graders than others, cover less material, or grant credit for things like attendance, promptness, class participation, and extra credit work. A grade of C in one teacher's class may be less impressive than an A in another's. Furthermore, some classes are inherently more challenging than others, even if they are not Honors, AP, or IB. For example, regular algebra and geometry are generally far more rigorous than many social science courses offered in high school.

Those who oppose the use of tests (SAT, ACT) as admissions criteria are partially responsible for this ridiculous grade inflation.

Posted by: BradJolly | January 6, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

"This would not effect my own GPA, as my class is just regular old Algebra II! But it would effect the thousands of students who are enrolled in college-level and honors classes."

Both of these should be affect, not effect. effect is a noun, affect is a verb. Common mistake, even for those who know the difference.

Posted by: VTHokiebird | January 6, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

I understand the rationale behind the change to a 5 point scale (5.0 for a grade of "A" in an AP class). A kid who has a 4.5 v. a 3.7 "looks" like a better performer. But I don't understand all the hoopla behind changing from a 94 percent to a 90 percent for an A. Fairfax report cards only identify performance by letter grade. In other for this to have any negative effect on how colleges perceive a student's grades, there needs to be evidence that teachers in Fairfax give out fewer "A"s then other education systems using the 90 percent scale. Rather, instituting a 94% scale would probably have a positive effect on colleges perceptions of the school system and its students - it may suggest that the school system grades harder than other systems, when in fact the school system may dole out the same number of "A"s as other systems.

Posted by: roundabout | January 6, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

"Both of these should be affect, not effect. effect is a noun, affect is a verb. Common mistake, even for those who know the difference."

But wouldn't a major newspaper editor spot this?? (WP still has editors, right?) Even Microsoft Word's grammar checker caught this. Good thing it wasn't a column about an English Language Arts class...

- Honorary Member, Virginia Grammar & Usage Militia

Posted by: TonyFo | January 6, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

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